Mental Health and the Workplace

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Mental health care has become a hot-button issue nationwide, and for good reason. According to the American Psychological Association, 90% of the public agrees that there is a mental health crisis in the U.S. today. A shortage of psychological professionals is making treatment for psychological and psychiatric needs all the more difficult.

It may seem like an individual’s responsibility to manage one’s mental health, but poor mental health within your company affects business as well. A decline in your workers’ mental health can majorly affect your organization’s bottom line.

The health of your employees plays a significant role in a business’s overall efficiency. A recent study from the World Health Organization found that an estimated 12 billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety, costing up to USD$1 trillion in lost productivity.

A company investing in its workers’ mental health isn’t just about implementing feel-good initiatives, but it’s also about bettering your workforce to enhance performance. By taking a vested interest in your workforce’s health, you can help employees become their best selves and keep your organization running as proficiently as possible.

The Mental Health Epidemic

Mental health puzzleNearly four years after the COVID-19 pandemic, people are still facing its negative effects. There have been major shifts in our society, and workers have had to navigate how to work through them while tackling new stressors. Managing one’s mental health became all the more difficult as employees worked around mass layoffs, shifts in work environments, salaries outpaced by inflation, climate-related disasters, and more.

We often discuss how an individual’s mental well-being may affect their personal and home lives, but what about their work lives? According to a study by Lyra Health, 65% of U.S. workers said their mental health challenges interfered with their ability to work. Not only do mental conditions like anxiety and depression lead to reduced productivity, but they may also increase absenteeism, burnout, and turnover rates.

It is difficult to access mental health care. The increase in the need for this care has outpaced the number of psychologists and therapists available to provide their services. Even with increased flexibility for providers, like advancements in virtual and telehealth capabilities, mental health professionals are still struggling to meet the demand for mental health care.

According to the American Psychology Association, 60% of psychologists are reporting they have no openings for new patients. Despite the lack of availability, demand continues to grow as more individuals seek treatment for conditions like depression, anxiety, and trauma- and stressor-related disorders.

Stigma Surrounding Mental Health

A lack of resources isn’t the only thing preventing people from seeking mental health care. Unfortunately for those struggling, stigma remains a notable roadblock in seeking treatment and improving their mental and emotional health.

Mental health conditions are common and treatable, but stigma persists. Many refuse to consider therapy and similar practices as viable treatment options.

According to a 2022 survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation and CNN, when asked what is preventing participants from accessing mental health care, 80% cited cost and over 60% cited shame and stigma as primary obstacles. Apart from financial and insurance discrepancies, stigma is the secondary reason adults with mental health troubles may not seek treatment.

Stigma can be especially prevalent in the workplace. While conversations and understanding around mental health care have increased in recent years, the majority of people continue to deny its importance. This denial further contributes to workers denying themselves the care they need. 

Many workers struggling with their mental well-being may feel they will be written off as lazy or incompetent. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, eight in ten workers report shame and stigma prevent them from seeking care for a mental health condition.

It becomes an organization’s responsibility to take a stance and combat the negative connotations surrounding mental health conditions and mental health treatment. By building a culture of understanding and acceptance, your company can create a stigma-free environment where all workers can thrive.

How to Support Your Workers’ Mental Health

Holding hands in support

So how can the workplace help? Employers play a significant role in improving access to mental health services. Employees need the proper insurance to help cover healthcare costs for both their physical and mental health. If your company has the opportunity to offer the best care available, this will be valuable when your workers seek treatment.

But even with the best insurance and financial aid, stigma can remain. One of the most powerful ways to combat stigma is as simple as having a conversation. Create a space within your organization where workers feel comfortable to speak up. Normalize mental health struggles and remain open to your workers’ suggestions. This will help foster a culture of understanding and encourage open, honest conversations. This can reduce stereotypes and generalized beliefs about those struggling with mental conditions.

Another way to help is to increase the flexibility in your workplace’s work model. Workers highly value versatility in their workplace. The ability to work remotely and in-office is especially common as more companies have adopted a hybrid work model after the pandemic. Further accommodations may be necessary when helping an employee with mental health struggles. You may consider offering more work-from-home days or PTO for mental health days. Employees combatting a mental health condition will likely need time away from work to seek treatment and recover.

Make sure all of your leadership is aware and on board to help. Offering additional training for executives and managers may improve the culture in your workplace and empower employees to seek the help they need.

The workplace plays a major role in a worker’s life and is a top social determinant of mental health. Work-related stress and mental health conditions can lead employees to feel less focused, productive, and engaged while at work. This affects how the company as a whole performs.

This Mental Health Awareness Month, make your workforce the best it can be. It’s time to address the mental health-sized elephant in the room. Your workers and your organization will thank you for it.

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